Aug 29, 2010

Causes of Dementia: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and Chronic Traumatic Encephalomyelopathy (CTEM)

By Max Wallack
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Bob did a great job explaining about eight causes/types of dementia. I would like to add another cause of dementia.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy has been the subject of a great deal of interest over the past few years.

According to Dr. Robert Stern, Mr. Chris Nowinski, and Dr. Ann McKee, all at the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center,
“BU researchers have linked head injuries in former athletes to depression and dementia, making headlines and leading to rule changes in the National Football Leagues.”

Caregivers are familiar with the devastating effects of depression and dementia.

It is important to find ways to prevent these young, healthy athletes from suffering this preventable fate caused by head trauma. I also believe head trauma in sports is much more pervasive than people think.

For example, no one would consider me to be an athlete, yet, I had a concussion at the age of 7 as a result of sparring at Tae KwonDo. H

ow many of these injuries go completely undiagnosed and forgotten? How many older people are diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s that might have a root in brain injuries caused by sports injuries many years earlier, especially considering the lack of protective equipment in sports 50 years ago?

Just this past month, these researchers at the Brain Bank in Bedford MA have identified an entirely new disease causing dementia. They are calling this disease “Chronic Traumatic Encephalomyelopathy”, and their findings are published in this month’s Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology.

They have had the opportunity to examine the brains of 12 deceased athletes. In three of the athletes who had been diagnosed with ALS, McKee and her colleagues have found an abnormal protein, not only in the brains, but also in the spinal cords of these athletes.

They have also found abnormal tau protein, which is found as tangles in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. These athletes suffered from a never before described disease.

According to McKee,
“Abnormal tau deposits, a marker of CTE, are not found in ALS. The new findings suggest that the motor neuron disease that affected the three athletes, while similar to ALS, represents a distinct disease never before described in the medical literature. McKee and her colleagues have named it chronic traumatic encephalomyelopathy (CTEM), and they believe the cause is repetitive head trauma absorbed in contact sports such as football and boxing.”

Robert Stern, Christopher Nowinski, and Ann McKee talk about CTE and the discovery of a disease never before described in the medical literature, CTEM, in the video above.

I would also like to add that I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to spend time this summer at the Boston University Alzheimer’s Center and also at the Bedford Brain Bank. I have the highest respect for these researchers.

Max Wallack is a student at Boston University Academy. His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of PUZZLES TO REMEMBER. PTR is a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and veterans institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

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